Connectivity a goal of Columbia developers.

As Columbia's historic communities and neighborhoods continue to attract redevelopment, industry leaders think that growth could serve as connective tissue linking the region's economy.

A four-person panel of developers, architects and real estate professionals talked about the area's challenging tax structure and the attributes that separate Midlands markets from competitors such as Charleston and Greenville during the Columbia Regional Business Report's Power Breakfast event on Thursday.

One area seeing steady growth is Cottontown, a section of downtown across Elmwood Avenue where new shops pop up regularly along North Main Street and its arteries. One of the businesses the area attracted is architecture firm Studio 2LR, which relocated to a building built in 1938 at the corner of North Main and Confederate Avenue in 2016 after 10 years in the Vista.

"It's perfect for what we want to do," Lyles said. "The attractiveness is the neighborhoods, the costs, and there are some really cool buildings. There's a lot of good things going on out there."

Lyles enjoyed the benefits of his company's previous Vista location, including the many restaurants within walking distance, but lower rents and a desire to be a part of the up-and-coming Cottontown district drew Studio 2LR across Elmwood.

"People want to be there, and people want to move out there," Lyles said.

The Cottontown area, while vibrant, illustrates a challenge facing the Columbia commercial real estate market. Unlike competing markets such as Charleston and Greenville, which have defined central cores, Columbia has several areas of revitalization and growth that are somewhat fragmented, the panelists said.

"In Columbia, we are blessed with lots of centers of activity," said Heather Mitchell, president of architectural firm The Boudreaux Group. "You've got the Vista, you've got Five Points, you've got Main Street, you've got the river, and they've all kind of come up a little bit, but there's not been one focus where Columbia developers (or) the city can put their money and make it work."

Columbia's growth centers are less connected, she said, in part because there's not enough density and infrastructure such as pedestrian walkways to ferry foot traffic across busy streets such as Assembly and Huger, where redevelopment is also spotty.

"The city's really got to keep growing and fill in between all those areas to make this vibrant, walkable city," Mitchell said.

Lyles said Columbia's...

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